By Joyce Gannon
Most women business owners are confident their sales will rise or at least stay the same this year, but don’t look for them to bulk up their payrolls.
In a new poll commissioned for PNC Financial Services Group, 75 percent of women business owners surveyed said hiring would be flat over the next six months and many are likely to take a “do more with less” approach to running their enterprises.
“While they are optimistic about their outlook, it’s tempered by the fact that most are not going to increase their head count,” said Beth Marcello, PNC’s director of women’s business development.
Instead of hiring, survey respondents hope to invest in technology to make their businesses more efficient and, in some cases, bolster their company’s use of the Internet for marketing and sales.
“The online presence is really important to them,” Ms. Marcello said.
The telephone survey of 154 women business owners and top decision-makers in female-owned companies was conducted between July 24 and Sept. 12 for PNC by Artemis Strategy Group, a Washington, D.C.-based marketing research firm.
Ninety percent of the respondents were owners. The businesses surveyed were characterized as small- to mid-market firms with annual revenues from $100,000 to less than $250 million; 69 percent of them reported sales below $1 million.
According to the National Association of Women Business Owners and a 2014 report from American Express, more than 9 million female-owned firms are in the U.S., employing almost 8 million people and generating annual sales of $1.4 trillion.
Of all the business challenges they’ll face over the next six months, the top concern among survey respondents was corporate taxes, followed by weak sales and declining demand, government regulations, and the cost of health care for employees.
Asked whether their businesses were adversely impacted by the extreme weather conditions in this year’s first quarter, one-third of respondents said yes and of those, six in 10 have not yet recovered completely from the cold-weather downturn.
Nancy Reese, founder and chief creative officer at Akoya, a strategic communications firm on the South Side, didn’t participate in the PNC survey but her current outlook mirrors that of the survey respondents.
The coming year should be “quite good” in terms of revenues, she said, because of a steady stream of contracts her company has secured from the federal government.
Among Akoya’s clients are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Energy and small firms in the private sector.
Akoya has 26 employees split between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.
While she could possibly hire more, Ms. Reese said she likely will rely on freelancers and contract labor as the work flow increases and try not to expect more work from existing employees.
“Our staff is already incredibly efficient,” she said. “We try to keep to a 40-hour work week and think people need a life and need to be recharged.”
For PNC, the survey provides insight into how to better engage with its female customers — especially women who own businesses or hold senior positions such as controller, chief financial officer or treasurer, Ms. Marcello said.
Through an in-house training program, PNC offers its banking staff certification as Women’s Business Advocates who support female business owners and decision-makers and help them grow their companies.
Since PNC formalized the program in 2006, about 1,500 employees have earned the certification. About one-third of those are male, Ms. Marcello said.
Those who are trained as Women Business Advocates study differences in communication and behavior styles between men and women; how to meet potential female business clients through networking in groups such as NAWBO and the Women Presidents’ Organization; and how women’s income and savings may differ from their male peers because many step out of the workforce to care for children or aging parents.
Although the recent survey found most women business owners are cautious about spending and expansion — only 8 percent said they were likely to take out a new loan in the next six months — training the bank’s employees to work closely with female entrepreneurs can have a long-term payoff as those women gain confidence in the economy, Ms. Marcello said.
“Women need the same financial products as men on both the personal and business side, but women want us to really add value to help their business grow,” she said. “We need to take time developing a relationship with her so she really trusts PNC.”